'The cloak of patriotism' — Strong


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“In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the people.” 

— Eugene Debs, American activist and trade unionist


In America, beginning with Memorial Day, we celebrate four patriotic holidays — Memorial Day, honoring those who died in the service of our country; Flag Day, honoring our flag; Independence Day, celebrating the birth of our country; and Veterans Day, honoring those who have served in our Armed Forces. On these holidays, we fly our flag to show love for our country and what it stands for.

Other holidays such as Labor Day honor our flag and fellow Americans, but these four are uniquely related to love and service for America. As we celebrate these holidays, we should think about what honoring our country really means.

These days, a right-wing movement called Christian Nationalism is gaining momentum. Its true goals are hidden under the pretext of promoting Christian values and love for America. In reality, there is nothing Christian or patriotic about Christian Nationalism's goals.

Charles de Gaulle was the leader of the Free French Forces during World War II and later president of France. He understood the difference between nationalism, which the Nazis encouraged, and patriotism. He explained it this way: “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.”

Much of Christian Nationalism is based on hating those who disagree with its principles, which include white supremacy and treating minorities, racial and religious, as second-class citizens. The leaders preach that patriotism means believing everything America does and has done is perfect, unless done by someone they disagree with. If anyone objects, the leaders advocate punishment up to and including death. And they are the ones who decide guilt or innocence.

What does this have to do with patriotism and honoring our flag? In 1888, a British lawyer, James Bryce, wrote a book titled “The American Commonwealth.” He had studied American constitutional law and American values in detail. His conclusion? “Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong.” This bedrock principle is still true today.

Many right-wingers seem to think that waving the flag frequently proves their patriotism. Remember the flag pin controversy when Barack Obama was running for president? Right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, wearing a flag pin became almost mandatory to prove someone’s patriotism.

When Obama was campaigning, he was criticized for not wearing a flag pin. He explained his reasons at an Iowa campaign rally on Oct. 4, 2007. “My attitude is that I’m less concerned about what you’re wearing on your lapel than what’s in your heart. You show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those who serve. You show your patriotism by being true to our values and ideals.”

Patriotism is truly exhibited by our actions, including how we treat those who have served our country. In 2015, presidential candidate Donald Trump insulted Republican Sen. John McCain, a former POW. When McCain died, Trump called him a “loser.”

In 2018, on a trip to France, Trump refused to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, saying “It’s filled with losers.” This comment was confirmed by his chief of staff, retired Gen. John Kelly. Trump has insulted several Gold Star families, showing his contempt for those who have died in service.

Trump’s followers continue this lack of respect for our country by their treatment of our flag. In 1942, Congress established guidelines on how to handle our flag.

“The flag should never be displayed with the union (the starred blue canton) down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.” We see this rule violated repeatedly by Trump followers, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

“The flag should not be used as ‘wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.’” Trump followers love to wear clothing made out of the flag, apparently oblivious of how disrespectful and unpatriotic this is.

As we prepare to celebrate Flag Day and Independence Day, let’s reflect on what patriotism and freedom truly mean. Peter Marshall, U.S. Senate chaplain, 1947-49, expressed it well: “May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.”

That ideal is our guide to true patriotism. Happy Flag Day!


Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Foundation award-winning columnist. She may be reached at news@lahontanvalleynews.com.

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